Title: The Evangelist in Hell
Genre: Christian Fiction
Release Date: June 2, 2017
Descriptive Blurb: Joe Platt has always walked the straight and narrow while his brother, David, has bounced around from prison to rehab. After their sudden and untimely deaths, Joe finds himself in Heaven only to learn that David has gone the other direction. Feeling responsible and desperate to reconcile their estranged relationship, Joe receives the Lord’s special permission to give David one last chance at eternal life. To do so, Joe must descend into the land of fire and brimstone, taking St. Peter as his companion and spiritual guide. Encountering a host of characters along the way, including a corrupt preacher and a band of thieves, Joe must make unlikely allies and overcome treacherous demons in order to save his brother before all hope is lost.
“Adventures in Hell…”
1st Impressions: The title is a grabber…got my attention…and the premise was interesting to boot, so even though I was a little apprehensive with one particular element of the plot I decided to give it a try. Glad I gave it a chance.
A Tale of Two Brothers: Here we have a modern day take on the Cain and Abel story, without all the malicious hate and jealous murder of the original brothers. One brother can do no right…and the other can do no wrong. Both are the product of a broken home, raised they their grandparents. David is a troubled child who grows into a delinquent druggie/drinker and screw-up who constantly needs rescuing. Meanwhile, Joe tows the line, does well in school, and is saved at an early age. He grows up to be a productive member of society, lives his faith, is active in church and compassion towards his brother. David is out of his most recent stint in rehab and appears to be trying to do better…but old habits die hard, so he ends up needing a ride home in the snow. Unfortunately, both he and Joe die in a weather-related traffic accident. In the afterlife, Joe is rewarded with an eternity in heaven, while David is sentenced to infinity in hell. And thus, the story begins.
Hell and Brimtown: Most of the action takes place in a section of Hell called Brimtown. The author’s vision of it is an interesting trek through a desolate world. The canvas he paints reminded me of the desert wasteland in every post-apocalyptic movie I’ve ever seen (The Book of Eli, Mad Max, Waterworld)…only more depressing because the souls in hell don’t seem to know that they’re damned. It’s odd, but that is the sense I got from the author’s depiction of the people and their actions. They all appear to function in some collective bubble of denial…so lost in lies, deceit, misery, and earthly things, that they fail to even comprehend their fate. They all still have jobs…cars…homes…weapons (if you can believe that). A testament to how completely deluded they are. If you’re dead…why on earth would you need a job? A weapon? (You can only die once). There’s also churches there, with preachers that promise “pardons” for those willing to pay for them….eh, huh? Another thing, Brimtown lacks any overt displays of torture or suffering. It’s more like a subtle death of humanity accompanied by the gradual snuffing out of hope…that makes the place so gray and bleak. There is also the sense that its every man for himself…the people tend to collect together in cities, but they don’t really form relationships…no one seems emotionally attached at all. Like I said, its odd, but described in a casual, matter-of-fact way that is believable.
Higher Love: Don’t expect hearts and flowers. While there was much love spoken of and much love shown, this is not your traditional romance. In fact, romantic love is never even mentioned. The book deals more with familial and spiritual/agape love. And I don’t think it suffered at all for the lack. [This is a major endorsement…as I rarely read and even less frequently enjoy any book that lacks a romantic element to the main plot or subplot.] Instead, the author weaves some poignant messages into the story…aimed at both believers and unbelievers. Ex. The concept of sin and shame and the degree to which many of the denizens of hell felt they were unworthy of salvation/love/forgiveness. Conversely, for Joe, the only believer that we really get to know, there was the concept of guilt for going to heaven while others (particularly his brother) rot in Hell and regret at not having tried harder to save his brother…and to witness in general. Guilt/regret is actually the main motivating factor for Joe’s pilgrimage to hell to save David.
Minor Beefs – There’s some information dumping on the front end, as the author is clearly trying to get all the backstory in. It slows down the action a little. However, I will say this, the author makes a genuine effort to weave in the pertinent backstory with the present action. And the background on Joe and David was interesting enough so that the info dump isn’t too tedious. Outside of this, the story is actually very well-written…the characters fleshed out, interesting and likable. For once my beef really has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, the story, or the characters. It’s more of a philosophical beef. As a Christian woman myself, actively trying to lead a Christ-like lifestyle, I really love to see authors writing Christian fiction. But what I take issue with is including elements which are contradictory to the Christian belief system, the bible or biblical truths in a book that is labeled as Christian-fiction. That being said….
The Christian in me scoffed at the posthumous attempt at redemption. A Christian fiction novel which appears to violate one of the chief tenets of Christianity both bothered and intrigued me. I wanted to see how the author would handle it. It’s odd to me that a long-time Christian like Joe, active in the faith, would have the belief that his brother is a “good person” and therefore doesn’t deserve to go to hell or somehow gets a pass because he’s misunderstood…and just needs one last chance. And if this is truly how Joe felt/feels why is there no witnessing/soul-saving attempts while both of them were still alive? In his last few hours before the accident, Joe expresses a lot of things…memories, feelings, resentments…but he never seems that worried about David’s immortal soul. It’s almost like he just assumes his brother is heaven bound, automatically. This attitude annoyed me for some reason. Smacks of some assumption of privilege. Why is his brother inherently good??? He’s a juvenile delinquent…a substance abuser, and a lay-about ne’er-do-well who shows no faith of any kind…so why would Joe presume him to be heaven-bound? I don’t mean to say that David is a bad seed. He is no worse than any other unbeliever, but he’s no better either. I will concede that through the development and growth of Joe’s character, we learn that a larger part of his motivation also lay with personal guilty for not having witnessed to David and been more concerned about his well-being. And there are some other events too which alleviate this issue somewhat (I don’t want to spoil). And of course, one can also argue that the book itself is Christian Fiction so a certain amount of poetic license is expected and acceptable.
Cool Points: The story is not predictable. Though the book is written in third person through the eyes of the main character [Joe] it has the feel of a first-person narrative (but thankful avoids the annoying pitfalls of 1st person). The reader finds out everything at the same moment as Joe. He alone, is our eyes and ears. There’s even a mild bit of humor, which keeps things from becoming too deep and depressing. Also, I liked that the author included a familiar biblical character as Joe’s traveling partner…makes things more interesting.
CliffNotes: Naw, there’s a pretty straight forward tie-up in this one. While there was a tiny little cheat at the end which I would have liked to see, I can understand and even agree with why the author chose to just close the curtain when he did.
The Final Word: Good read. I enjoyed this book very much.
You can find ‘The Evangelist in Hell’ on Goodreads.
About the Author:
Jimmy Leonard teaches English and writing fundamentals online to students living all over the world. The Evangelist in Hell is his first novel, and he has more on the way. When he’s not teaching or writing, Jimmy volunteers in the college student ministry at his church. He lives in Michigan with his wife, Emily.